These days, the estimating process is not causing many estimators furrowed brows. Problems are arising with how plans are transmitted from the engineer to the contractor. Traditional project plans evolved from the pioneering “blueprint,” which had a blue background and white lines indicating the buildings' contents, hence the name. The details of the plan were inked on a sheet. Developing was done by exposing the paper plan to a photosensitive paper under intense lighting and developed with an ammonia solution that would clear up the sinuses. The technology progressed to plans that are drawn by digitizing computers and some that can be read by optical technology.

While not a new wrinkle, some plans are now only available on compact discs. This may be well-suited for music and other types of visual presentations that don't depend on finite measurements, but it poses obstacles for the estimating procedure.

Recently, I was loaned a CD with some pertinent information related to a client's need. In this case, it was video produced on a Macintosh computer with a program that my PC could read; however, I couldn't find a way to copy the information to a disk for my records. I do consider the PC a tool that allows me to work more efficiently, but I am conscious of the value of time and think it a waste to have to spend time finding a solution. The price of having the disk reproduced professionally was cheaper in the long run. Therein lies part of the problem.

Accuracy of dimensioned plans is always a concern. Many estimators found that in some technologies, the measurements can vary from the indicated figures. This may not be as serious a problem with CDs, but using caution and verifying measurements is still advised. Measurements can be verified against commonly known dimensions such as 2 * 4 lay-in fixtures.

If the firm estimating the CD-based project has not invested in applicable technology, the problems are exacerbated. Most PCs in use will read CDs, although a program may not be compatible to the file produced on the CD. There are innumerable Web sites that can assist in identifying the program that will read the file. There are commercial sources available to convert the information to a regular plan format.

In many cases, there may be a temptation to print on a standard printer. This will deliver standard paper size prints that are either in multiple sections or reduced to a scale to fit the paper. Both options should be avoided except in dire emergencies, as the error rate would probably be higher than acceptable. Here again, if the equipment is not available, then local copy shops may be the answer.

Along with CDs are the great varieties of personal digital assistants (PDAs) that have come to the marketplace. The capabilities of PDAs are far-reaching. Some are quite basic but others have Internet access and are able to perform cell phone or personal computer functions. Many vendors have tools that will interface with numerous platforms. If there is not one available for your unit last week, it will probably be available soon.

Some of these “toys” have global positioning system (GPS) capabilities, which is not specifically an estimating system, but can be helpful in determining if the inspection agency's location may be a problem. There are anomalies-my mailing address does not show on the GPS, but it will show a close number.

There are technologies not yet in general use that will help the estimating process. The bottom line is that technology will not stand still, not even for the patriarchs of this industry. It's best to reform from being a Luddite and get with the technology. There any number of assists available for updating your technological knowledge. It requires personal commitment and follow-through, something all estimators should already have to be effective in the profession. EC

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or at edavid@lbcc.cc.ca.us.